Some people are so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good

Question

"Some people are so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good." What do we make of this?

Answer

Physician and poet Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., is thought to have coined this phrase. Country singer Johnny Cash made it even more famous in a song entitled, “No Earthly Good” (Album: The Rambler, 1977). The first time I heard this phrase was when I was sharing the gospel with my father. He meant it to stop me in my tracks; he desired that I stop talking about the gospel in his house. I knew Jesus had said, “And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town” (Matt. 10:14). Besides, it was my father’s home and not mine, so I did stop — at least that day.

I personally have never met anyone “so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good.” But I ask, are any “so earthly minded that they are of no heavenly good?” [1]

One of the characteristics of a Christian is that they sincerely “desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Heb. 11:16). Christians are supposed to seek those things above (heavenly). Paul says in Colossians 3:1-2,“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” Indeed, elsewhere we're told, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2; cf. Jas. 4:4). So, Christians are supposed to be really, really, really heavenly minded. They can’t be heavenly minded enough!

Because Christians aren’t even of this world, it begs the question of why they are thinking earthly type things. Their citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20). Jesus said, "[we] are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (John 17:6; cf. John 17:14). Yes, we were born here, but we were reborn from heaven, and in Christ we sit in the heavenly places (Eph. 2:6; Col. 3:1). (Please see, “How can I be seated with Christ in the heavenly places if I'm still sitting upon the earth?” below.) So, we should begin living like this because we need to be continuously transforming this world – its languages, sciences, art, music, movies, holidays, architecture, sports, and other issues, etc. – by thought and speech that is from above. But are we hearing this from pulpits? Is the real Jesus even allowed in your church because he's too heavenly minded?

Remember Noah? Out of nowhere, he was ordered to build an ark, a huge vessel approximately 510 feet long. Then came rain ... flood ... death. And all those animals! To most in his day, Noah must have looked like a fool building that thing. Can’t you just hear people screaming, “Noah! You are so heavenly minded that you are of no earthly good!” But Noah still built the ark, taking approximately 100 years to do so. It was during this time that he preached the gospel. See, Noah knew that this heavenly ark was the only hope that he and the world had.

Jesus is the only heavenly ark for this world today. And each and every Christian is this world’s Noah. So be heavenly minded like him and keep building God’s ark in the midst of an earthly-minded world.

This said, we should use wisdom when we share the gospel - actually at all times. We should always use the wisdom that's from above (Jas. 3:17; cf. Jas. 1:17), otherwise we are just doing things in the power of our own strength instead of the Holy Spirit. God please give us all grace and mercy.

Note

[1] Please note that I’m only turning a phrase. Paul wrote that all people – even the evilest among us – are for God’s glory. “Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory” (Rom. 9:21-23).

Related Topics

How can I be seated with Christ in the heavenly places if I'm still sitting upon the earth?

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).